Religion and Family Violence – Muslim Women’s View

Religious groups should not be able to promote the belief that men are superior to women if Australia wants to address family violence, an inquiry has heard. The use of religion to justify gender inequality or violence against women has largely been ignored in Australia, Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence heard on Tuesday. The Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights submission to the Royal Commission leaves no stone unturned in examining aspects of violence in CALD communities.

In Australia we seem to be completely silent about that," said Joumanah El Matrah of the Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights. Authorities and services have failed to engage with religious victims of family violence because they are leaving too much to religious leaders, she said.

Doing this sidesteps the issue of spiritual abuse and pits different groups against each other. "At the moment what you have is men who promote Islam having one particular view to women and violence, and Western culture having another view to women and their experience of violence," Ms El Matrah said.

This leads to religious leaders and Muslim men saying, "I'm not going to give up my religion just to fit into Australia", she said. It is also difficult to hold religious leaders accountable for their views or any advice they give in private.

"While religious leaders may not agree with violence against women, a great number of religious leaders do see men and women as unequal," Ms El Matrah said. "Unless that shifts, no amount of support to eradicate violence is going to work."

The introduction of anti-terrorism laws in Australia has also made Muslim victims of family violence afraid to contact authorities for protection, the advocacy group said in a written submission. "This has developed into apprehensiveness about the Australian legal system and a mistrust of both government and the legal system," it said.

Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights - Submission

The following are extracts from the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights submission to Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Family violence affects people from all ethnicities, cultures and religions. In Australia, a woman is killed every week by her partner or ex-partner and 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual abuse by someone known to them (White Ribbon 2014). While family violence is a universal problem, there are key emerging issues in Australian family violence research, particularly around vulnerable communities such as women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, the LGBTI community, women with disabilities and Indigenous Australians, as well as increased insights into the relationship between family violence and homelessness (see Bartels 2010; Tually et al 2008). Furthermore, there are unique challenges for women from newly arrived CALD (NACALD) communities, refugee and immigrant communities.

Muslim women are often conceptualised as being a sub-group of the CALD population. While Muslim women face many of the same challenges as CALD communities in their vulnerability to violence and challenges accessing services, this view fails to recognise key differences that are crucial to both the phenomena of family violence and efforts towards its eradication. In the experience of AMWCHR, for many Muslims, religious identity surpasses cultural identity, particularly in matters related to gender and family. The formation of religious identity in Muslim communities is characterised by its complexity and diversity. Currently there are thought to exist approximately 32 sects in Islam, although no accurate or reliable figures exist. Muslims herald from 83 countries globally, and formation of Muslim identity can differ profoundly depending on cultural background, class, gender, sexual orientation, level of education, country context and process of migration and settlement into Australia.

Australian Muslims, therefore, are a highly diverse group in their own right- 40 per cent of Muslims are Australian born and are third and forth generation Australians. Within Muslim communities, there are at risk minorities or minorities within minorities. These include those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), those experiencing homelessness and those who have a disability. These communities have received less consideration and no government or sector response to date.

The causes, nature and prevalence of family violence in Muslim families is significantly under-researched, and this substantially limits our ability to generalise as to the degree to which they share similarities with other at risk groups beyond the experience of our own work.

Muslim women experience challenges that are complex and intersectional, with religious identity playing a significant, at times, defining role in how women understand family violence and how services need to work towards its eradication. Generalised or generic approaches, which seek to work broadly with CALD communities, have no benefit for Muslim women. Further,recognition of structural impediments or unique challenges that face CALD communities only go part of the way in recognising factors which need to be addressed in tackling family violence for Muslim communities.

Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights


Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights: Submission to Royal Commission into Family Violence



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